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Orioles prospect season in review: Hunter Harvey

In spring training, it was a question of when, not if, Hunter Harvey would pitch for the Orioles this year. Then he hurt his shoulder, and then, his elbow. Now it’s not so certain.

Baltimore Orioles Photo Day Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The way the Orioles spoke about and treated pitching prospect Hunter Harvey back during spring training of this season, you might have gotten the idea that they were tempted to have him break camp with the team. With Harvey having thrown fewer than 35 innings the past two seasons combined, this attitude on the Orioles part seemed disconnected from reality.

Although the O’s sent Harvey to Double-A Bowie to start the season, the point had been made. Sooner rather than later, Harvey, the O’s first round pick back in the 2013 draft and a one-time top 100 prospect in baseball before all of his injury problems, would be pitching in Baltimore.

This inevitability seemed even closer in early April when the Orioles recalled Harvey to sit in the bullpen as relief insurance for two days. Harvey, whose schedule for building up his innings in the minor leagues was thrown off, did not pitch in that two-day stint. Surely, though, he would soon be back.

Things are never so simple for pitching prospects, or at least not for Orioles pitching prospects. After nine starts with Bowie, Harvey suffered a shoulder injury in early June. It was not an encouraging development for a guy who was already not back to full strength after having had Tommy John surgery in July 2016.

The shoulder injury was said to have been caused when Harvey’s shoulder popped out of its socked while he tried to dodge a foul ball in the dugout on a night where he wasn’t even pitching. You want to talk about a guy having no luck at all, there’s as good of an example as you’re ever going to get.

Worse still for Harvey is that shoulder thing wasn’t the end of his injury woes for the year. Towards the end of August, as Harvey was working his way back to action from that shoulder injury, his rehab was shut down due to elbow discomfort. A second attempt at rehab of that shoulder injury was also shut down due to elbow soreness just last week.

This stuff sucks because it means that the pitcher who generates this scouting report from MLB Pipeline just never even gets a chance:

Owner of a fastball that sits in the 92-95 mph range and reaches 96-97, Harvey also commands the pitch to both sides of the plate thanks to a smooth delivery as well as a whippy-but-clean arm action. He pairs his heater with a plus curveball that he throws with tight spin and considerable depth to create late downer action and pile up whiffs, while Harvey’s changeup gives him a third average-or-better offering.

If that version of Harvey had the opportunity to show himself in Bowie this summer, we would have probably seen Harvey in the aftermath of the July trade deadline rather than having a rotation spot filled by the likes of David Hess or Yefry Ramirez. Unfortunately, this was not the case. At this point, I have to wonder if he will ever be able to stay healthy long enough to pitch.

The other thing that sucks about it is that it’s almost certainly not Harvey’s fault in any way that he has gone through all of these injuries. If a player’s elbow is going to pop, there’s not much he can do about that. A shoulder popping while dodging a foul ball is just bad luck.

It may not be the Orioles fault that these things have happened to Harvey, either, although it is possible that they have made decisions that have hindered his getting back into game shape. These things just happen sometimes, but it is normal for people and particularly sports fans of bad teams to wonder about what might have been if things were just a little different. I’m sure Harvey and his family can’t help but wonder, too.

The good news, such as it is, is that the Orioles are not near a point where they need to make a final decision about whether Harvey will ever be able to make a meaningful contribution to the franchise. He was added to the 40-man roster over the last offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft and used up one minor league option year in 2018.

That leaves two more years available to the O’s. Only at the end of spring training in 2021 would they have to put him on the 25-man roster or cut him loose. A lot can happen between now and then. He might finally get back on the right track, or he might wash out entirely before that day arrives.

The key thing for the rebuilding Orioles as regards Harvey is that they cannot count on him in their plans for the future in any way. If he arrives at some point, that would be an unexpected bonus, but they can’t etch into stone plans for some future good O’s rotation with the thought that Harvey might be in it. He will be 24 in December and he has thrown just 51 innings in the past two seasons combined. It’s a big hole to escape.

In the most recent O’s prospect rankings on Pipeline, Harvey was rated as the #8 prospect in the system. That’s because one of the cliches of baseball prospects is, “Once a first round pick, always a first round pick.” You have to have a certain talent pedigree to get drafted there.

In Harvey’s case, no one doubts that pedigree. It’s just that if his body never lets him pitch, it matters less and less how good he is at pitching. He will probably fall farther down the rankings as they are updated next spring, passed by newer and healthier prospects. It’s not too late to still hold out a little hope for him, but time is running out.